WASHINGTON — Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 were most supportive of increasing NASA’s budget and more often than any other age group said the benefits of space exploration outweigh the risks, according to a Gallup poll commissioned by the Coalition for Space Exploration and released June 17.
At a time when aerospace industry leaders are holding workshops and focus groups to meet the challenges of recruiting college graduates, the Gallup poll showed the youngest of the 1,002 people surveyed expressing more favorable opinions of the U.S. space program than their older counterparts.
For example, 62 percent of the 18- to 34-year-olds supported or strongly supported increasing NASA’s budget to 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget – an amount
the Gallup poll noted would
cost about $58 per average citizen
per year. Support decreased as the ages of respondents went up. Those who supported or strongly supported a NASA budget increase dropped among 35- to 49-year-olds to 53 percent, and to 46 percent among respondents aged
Mary Engola, chairwoman of the Coalition for Space Exploration’s public affairs team, said a highlight of the poll was the young respondents’ answers.
“I think it’s very encouraging, especially since that’s our future work force,” she said. “It goes against some of the popular belief in the industry.”
The Gallup poll was the fourth conducted for the coalition, and Engola said the plan is for at least one each year. In the latest poll, conducted in April by telephone, 71 percent of respondents said the nation is doing a good or very good job maintaining leadership in space exploration, far better than responses to the nation’s handling of the war on terrorism, national disasters and health care needs. Thirty-two percent were concerned or somewhat concerned that China may become the new leader in space exploration, up from 28 percent in the last poll conducted in August 2006.
While the 18- to 34-year-old respondents supported raising NASA’s budget, they were less likely to agree with raising taxes to close a five-year gap between the space shuttle’s planned 2010 retirement and the scheduled completion of a replacement vehicle. Fifty-five percent said they were not too willing or not willing at all to support a tax increase to close the gap, a figure that matches the 35- to 49-year-old age group. The percentage of those opposed increased among the 50 and older group.
When it comes to inspiring youth, 70 percent of the 18- to 34-year-olds said NASA inspires people to consider an education in science, technology, math and engineering fields either somewhat or a great deal. That percentage was about the same
among the 35- to 49-year-old and 50- to 64-year-old groups, and dropped
percent among the 65 and older group.
age group is most concerned about the gap in human space transportation between 2010 and 2015, with 58 percent either very or somewhat concerned, the poll found. The number decreased among the younger groups, with 64 percent of the 18- to 34-year-olds responding that they were not very or not at all concerned about the gap.
Jeremiah Gertler, acting vice president of national security for Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group here, said he was not surprised that the poll found support for space exploration among young people, but added that the challenge is to maintain their interest by offering opportunities.
“What we’ve found as we talk to kids across the country is that if there’s something going on in aerospace, it is inspiring,” he said. “The bigger question is how many programs are there going to be that they can get inspired about.”
Another challenge, Gertler said, is to help young students make the connection between aerospace and math and science; that studying those subjects is the “price of admission into the aerospace field.”
Studies such as the Gallup poll can be helpful to presidential candidates BarackObama and John McCain as they formulate their positions on the U.S. space program, Gertler said, noting that respondents across the board said NASA does a good job of inspiring youth.
“It can help inform candidates who have different views,” he said. “Yes, Americans still care about these things and there isn’t the kind of generation gap that we’ve been led to believe … There’s still a hunger to do more.”